THE provincial Department of Social Development (DSD) estimates that it would need double of the number of social workers to effectively deal with an increasing foster care crisis.
The department said a total of 277 social workers dealt with 36 480 foster care cases as the population increases and the budget shrinks.
There is a backlog of 2 930 outstanding foster care orders requiring extension in court.
“This means social workers, on average, have a case load of 132 foster care cases. The norm is 60 cases per social worker,” said Joshua Chigome, department spokesperson.
The DSD said it filed foster care extension reports with children’s courts before the order expired but there were often waiting periods for court orders to be issued.
The backlog has been made worse by the closing of the courts after staff were infected with Covid-19.
The department said inter-provincial transfers also contribute to the foster care backlog as some foster families move to the Western Cape without informing the social worker in the province where they used to live.
The department would then file new court inquiries, which take time.
The Children’s Institute’s Paula Proudlock said the two-yearly evaluation of court orders and the long court processes to get the social grant contributed to the backlog.
She said once the Social Assistance Amendment Act was implemented, the social workers and courts would have fewer foster care cases and that the backlogs would be eased.
“The act will provide an alternative grant to the foster care grant – the Child Support Grant (CSG) top-up – for relatives caring for orphaned children. They will no longer need to go through social workers and the courts to get an adequate grant but can go directly to Sassa to apply,” she said.
The Amendment Act was signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the end of 2020 but the department still needed to publish final regulations and Sassa needs to be trained.
Proudlock said the department had indicated that it intends to implement the CSG top-up on April 1.
Chigome said that 65% of children in foster care were placed with their family members, and those were not regarded as foster care placements, which played an important role in reducing the backlog.
Director of Stellcare Stellenbosch and Districts Family Services, Bettie Nieuwoudt, said the non-profit organisation believed that where social workers and foster care services provide evidence that a longer extension was in the interest of the child, the presiding officers needed to allow children a permanency to their foster care homes.
“A child deserves such permanency but yet, some presiding officers refuse to confirm the placement with the foster family for longer than two years.
An independent social worker and the founder of the Centre for Care and Contact, Candice Warner, 33, said she has counselled many social workers who did not want to continue working in foster care services because of the workload.
“Thousands of social work graduates are without work while the department and NPOs child protection agencies in the sector are barely keeping up,” she said.